One of the toughest challenges I’ve faced in my years of working with leaders is that there are so many individuals who appear to be successful and yet they have spent much of their time using with fear, intimidation, and a draconian approach to managing others. There are far too many examples of people who lead the wrong way but seem to reap abundant rewards for doing so. Violence, even in an organizational sense, really is the quickest path to behavior change.
Organizations often celebrate leaders who hit all of the numerical targets without taking a closer look at how they made that happen. Sometimes managers getting results by using a big stick are promoted to a larger role where they repeat the pattern they were rewarded for and continue to use techniques that are fast, easy and wrong to continue their rise to the top. Eventually, they get to a place where armed with only one tool and numerous enemies in the organization, they lose the ability to make things happen.
Leaders who have been moved fast and don’t learn from their mistakes typically derail at some point because they become too controversial to promote further and they are no longer having success with their current team. Fear as a tool is fast, but it’s not sustainable.
Over time there are three major dynamics that come into play with leaders who follow this pattern.
1. People work hard to topple dictators.
As this kind of leader goes about his or her job, larger and larger numbers of people in the organization become negatively affected by the leader’s methods and increasingly look for opportunities to resist, challenge and ultimately rid themselves of the leader. At some point the outcry becomes so loud that someone who has the power to make a change hears it. One only has to look at history to see that dictators traditionally suffer a rather messy transfer of power.
2. Compliance instead of commitment limits growth.
When you haven’t had compliance in an organization, it looks like a great thing at first. People begin to do what they are supposed to and that brings results. Over time though, compliance proliferates mediocrity and only commitment will be able to grow an organization consistently. Most people will never commit to a leader who doesn’t consider their best interests or an organization that allows that kind of leader to stay in place. Employees become disgruntled and many decide to do just enough to get by but never really commit to the success of the team or the organization.
3. Great performers demand great leaders.
The best employees will decide they can achieve more under a leader who helps them grow and develop, even if it means changing companies to find one. Star players understand that a great coach will make them even better and they will work hard to find one. Over time the heavy handed leader is left with mediocre performers who decide it’s better to just do what they are told and collect their paycheck. No one can win for long with a team of those people.
Because bad leadership seems to work if you are looking at a snapshot, there will always be managers that are willing to take the easy road and just tell people what to do and then tell them again, harder. There will also be organizations that reward that kind of leadership and continue to promote those who practice it. But if you want your business to be built on a foundation that is sustainable then you need leaders who develop trust and commitment from the teams they lead. It will always take longer, and it will always be worth it. Leadership short cuts can be seductive in our immediate gratification world but your business can’t afford to encourage or tolerate them without suffering the long-term consequences they always bring.
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